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NATO tankers torched in Pakistan, but alternative routes to Afghanistan limited

The incident encapsulates many of the challenges for NATO tankers and supply lines, including militant attacks, disastrous floods, and mercurial Pakistan-US relations.

By Staff writer / October 1, 2010

A man runs away from the site of burning oil tankers on a highway near Shikarpur, Pakistan, on Friday. Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to more than two dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan, officials said.

Nadeem Soomro/Reuters

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New Delhi

Unknown assailants destroyed nearly 40 vehicles, mostly NATO tankers bringing oil to Afghanistan, on a nighttime raid in southern Pakistan early Friday.

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The trucks had halted overnight in the town of Shikarpur en route to the only border crossing into Afghanistan that remains open following Pakistan's closure of the Khyber Pass to NATO suppliers Thursday morning. Trucks had only recently started to pass through Shikarpur when a road was reopened that had been washed out by floods this summer.

The incident encapsulates many of the challenges for the NATO supply lines, including militant attacks, disastrous floods, and mercurial Pakistan-US relations. While the level of disruption at the moment remains manageable, further problems could spell trouble.

"If these attacks become frequent and they begin to take a heavy toll on the supply lines then I think it could be a huge source of worry to NATO forces. As the Americans increase their numbers they become ever more dependent on this stable route through Pakistan," says Rifaat Hussein, a strategic analyst at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

Tit-for-tat

Pakistan closed the Khyber Pass border crossing following several recent border incursions by NATO forces. The latest incident on Thursday morning involved US helicopters destroying a Pakistani border post, killing three paramilitary troops with the Frontier Corps. Pakistan claims its forces fired warning shots over the incursion.

"You fire at a helicopter in a combat zone, they usually take that as hostile and return fire," said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.

US-Pakistan relations have sunk rapidly despite recent goodwill surrounding flood relief. America provided $362 million in assistance and sent helicopters and crews to rescue survivors.

But as frequently happens, says Dr. Hussein, one positive step forward in the US-Pakistan relationship was followed by several steps back. Among them: dozens of drone attacks this month, violations of Pakistan's airspace, and criticism from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the lack of taxation in Pakistan. He says that assaults on NATO trucks are often revenge attacks for drone strikes.

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